Veterans with PTSD bond over military vehicles

‘Misfits all getting together:’ Veterans with PTSD bond over military vehicles

A loud whir is followed by a deep rumbling roar as the engine of a decommissioned Canadian Forces armoured recovery vehicle comes to life.

A big cloud of black smoke belches out of the rear exhaust port.

“You see that?” asks John Senior, thumping his chest. “That’s why people are here. When that starts up you should see the smile on the guys’ faces and their glow. Their aura just amplifies.

“We veterans are keeping that running and it is keeping us running. You see that connection. The happiness. The joy.”

Senior is the leader of the Ghost Squadron at The Military Museums in Calgary. He works for the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada as an operational stress injury social support co-ordinator.

The Ghost Squadron consists of volunteers who keep decommissioned military vehicles running. Between nine and 20 of them get together every week to do some mechanical work but, more importantly, to bond in some informal group therapy.

Most of the participants are suffering from occupational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

David, who suffers from PTSD and didn’t want his last name used, started coming a year ago after leaving the military filled with anger and resentment.

“A lot of us when we got out of the army … didn’t want to have anything to do with the army. I didn’t want to see stuff on TV. I still don’t watch war movies,” he said.

“It’s done me a world of good. These guys, they’ve seen the vulnerability and they still treat me like I never said a thing.”

David said everyone has had difficulties reintegrating into civilian life.

“This group, it reminds me of how … the legions started — misfits all getting together and going, ‘Hey, no one gets it but us,’ and that’s what this group has become,” he said.

“This drags guys out of the basement who are drinking themselves to death and has given them a purpose.”

Senior said that, in his day job, he has a list of about 200 veterans he has reached out to in southern Alberta. Most have all their limbs but struggle with mental health. He said the success of the informal therapy comes down to shared experience.

“You’re there with people who have the same mission mindset, same feelings.”

Scott Vanderveer and his wife, Heather, served in the military and both were diagnosed with occupational stress injuries.

Vanderveer, a former corporal, said his problems came gradually. They started with anxiety and unexplained anger. He still only sleeps an hour or two a night.

Connecting with fellow veterans has made a world of difference.

“When any one of us are having a bad day, the other guys are there. You know your brothers care for you when they’re razzing the hell out of you.”

Heather Vanderveer, who was also a corporal, said she left the Canadian Forces because of constant harassment from co-workers and superiors.

“I kind of tease everybody that I’m the president of the angry corporals club. That’s what we call it in our house,” she said. “I wanted to fulfil my duty as a soldier and my trade. I feel that was taken from me so the minute I left I was angry.

“I knew, for me, something wasn’t right. I suffered from anxiety, lack of self-esteem, nightmares.”

She doesn’t tinker with engines but said she’s included in all group activities.

Brian McGregor retired as a corporal 24 years ago and nobody has to pretend.

“My wife laughs at me because I’ll be cranky and miserable when I leave, because I’m job hunting and nobody’s talking to me. I will come back from one of these nights — greasy and dirty and smelling remarkably like I stood in a diesel fire — with a big smile on my face.”

Senior makes sure he keeps his day job and his volunteer gig separate but has noticed the benefits, especially for veterans who have retreated from society and haven’t sought help.

“I’ve seen that just a little bit of contact here goes a long way,” he said.

“From here I can say, ‘Hey, you might want to look at getting some outside source help.’”

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

The volunteers at the Campbell River Seniors’ Centre have been waiting seven months to welcome people back to the facility, and are happy to have all the necessary safety precautions in place to do so, including a sign-in booth at the entrance for contact tracing requirements. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbel River Mirror
Campbell River Seniors’ Centre re-opens after seven months of COVID closure

‘If we close it again, it’s possible it won’t ever re-open, and the community needs this facility’

Another modular unit is lifted into place on the second floor of the new supportive housing complex being built at 580 Dogwood Street on Thursday this past week. Photo by Cleo Corbett/City of Campbell River
Campbell River’s newest supportive housing facility rises on Dogwood Street

Pre-fab modular construction means the building can go on the foundation in under five days

RCMP remind people to lock their doors after dark. Black Press file photo.
RCMP seeing jump in property crime and unlocked vehicles

Drivers also cautioned to stay aware of changing road conditions

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read